Vegas embraces McInerney: 'It meant the world to me'

By Nick MentaNovember 6, 2017, 2:27 am

LAS VEGAS – Short of him walking away with the trophy, it is hard to imagine a better scene for A.J. McInerney than the one that played out Sunday at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.

In the field on a sponsor exemption, McInerney – the Las Vegas native who escaped the mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest festival on Oct. 1 – poured in a 30-foot birdie putt on the 18th green to close out a back-nine 30, a final-round 67, and his first PGA Tour event.

When the putt dropped, McInerney threw his arms in the air as the crowd around the final green responded with the largest roar of the week. Before walking off the course, he removed his hat, put his hands back in the air and applauded the galleries who have encouraged him for the last four days with shouts of “Let’s go, A.J.” and “Vegas Strong.”

“It was so much fun,” McInerney said. “Seeing Vegas come out strong today, it was amazing.”

When he emerged from the scoring trailer, he elicited another ovation from fans who had crowded around a fence to cheer him on one last time. He threw autographed balls to kids in the crowd, and when he stopped, the expression on his face changed, as if a switch had just flipped in his head. Suddenly, he looked tense.

Every time he was asked this week – and he was asked pretty much every day – McInerney swore that even if he were to finish in top 10, he would not accept the exemption into next week’s OHL Classic at Mayakoba. That’s because he is scheduled to play in the second stage of Tour Qualifying School, starting Tuesday at TPC Craig Ranch in Texas, where he’ll attempt to regain his status after finishing 97th last year on the money list.

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But when he exited scoring on Sunday, tied for 11th, one shot away from an invite, his certainty had left him. As he scrambled to do interviews and greae well-wishers, all he really wanted to do was call his agent. McInerney knew he had 30 minutes after the end of the tournament to make a decision, assuming he had to make one.

And about an hour after he finished, a little past 4 p.m. PT, as Patrick Cantlay, Alex Cejka and Whee Kim were tangled up in a playoff, McInerney was still on the back porch at TPC Summerlin, surrounded by friends and family. J.J. Spaun’s double bogey-double bogey finish had suddenly moved McInerney from T-11 to T-10. Unlike before, this was no longer a hypothetical. He was now sitting on the invite to Mayakoba.

He talked on the phone and texted back and forth with his agent about what he should do. He was still booked on a Southwest Airlines flight to Dallas that was set to take off at 6:30 p.m. After ending a call, McInerney pulled aside Beau Hossler, as Hossler was leaving the scoring area, and solicited his advice. The two talked it over.

“I told him to go to second stage,” said Hossler, who graduated from the Tour after playing a smattering of PGA Tour events without status last year. “He could go tear it up in Mayakoba, but if he doesn’t, then he’s stuck. I told him to go to second stage.”

After another phone call, McInerney made his decision. He was, as he originally intended, turning down Mayakoba to head back to Q-School.

“I don’t know. I think that’s the best decision,” he said, still talking over the scenarios that would need to play out for him earn to special temporary status on the PGA Tour. “But if I don’t play well in Mayakoba, then I don’t have anything next year. I’m going to second stage to at least have a job next year.”

Reminded how many times this week he had insisted that he wouldn’t entertain a Mayakoba invite, McInerney didn’t even need to hear the end of the question.

“Yeah, well, until it’s a reality, you don’t really think it fully through,” he answered. “But yeah, I’m still going to stick to that. That was my gameplan to start with, and I’m just going to take care of business in second stage.”

And so, the deliberation was over. The dream week – after the nightmare he went through just one month ago – had officially come to an end.

Asked a couple of hours earlier to sum up the emotion of his week, McInerney thought back to when he first learned he was going to make his PGA Tour debut.

“Oh man, it started a couple Saturdays ago when I got the phone call [to play]. To come out here and kind of prove that I can play a little, I was proud of that.

“Then to be able to shoot 30 on the back side today, it was just kind of a storybook ending, I guess. It’s just great to see Las Vegas out here supporting this great event. For me to just be a small piece of that, and get these fans and this crowd going, it meant the world to me.”

Battling mono, Kaufman tied for lead at CME

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 2:05 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Kim Kaufman’s bout with mononucleosis might leave fellow tour pros wanting to catch the fever, too.

A couple months after Anna Nordqvist battled her way into contention at the Women’s British Open playing with mono, and then thrived at the Solheim Cup with it, Kaufman is following suit.

In her first start since being diagnosed, Kaufman posted an 8-under-par 64 Saturday to move into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. It was the low round of the day. She’s bidding to win her first LPGA title.

“I’ve been resting at home for two weeks,” Kaufman said. “Didn’t do anything.”

Well, she did slip on a flight of stairs while recuperating, hurting her left wrist. She had it wrapped Saturday but said that’s mostly precautionary. It didn’t bother her during the round.

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“I’m the only person who can take two weeks off and get injured,” Kaufman joked.

Kaufman, 26, left the Asian swing after playing the Sime Darby Malaysia, returning to her home in South Dakota, to see her doctor there. She is from Clark. She was told bed rest was the best thing for her, but she felt good enough to make the trip to Florida for the season-ending event.

“We had some really cold days,” Kaufman said. “We had some snow. I was done with it. I was coming down here.”

How does she feel?

“I feel great,” she said. “I’m a little bit shaky, which isn’t great out there, but it’s great to be here doing something. I was going a little bit stir crazy [at home], just kind of fighting through it.”

Kaufman made eight birdies in her bogey-free round.

New-look Wie eyes CME Group Tour Championship title

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 1:32 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Michelle Wie is sporting a new look that even has fellow players doing double takes.

Bored during her six-week recovery from an emergency appendectomy late this summer, Wie decided to cut and die her hair.

She went for golden locks, and a shorter style.

“I kind of went crazy after being in bed that long,” Wie said. “I just told my mom to grab the kitchen scissors and just cut all my hair off.”

Wie will get to sport her new look on a big stage Sunday after playing herself into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. With a 6-under-par 66, she is in contention to win her fifth LPGA title, her first since winning the U.S. Women’s Open three years ago.

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Wie, 28, fought her way back this year after two of the most disappointing years of her career. Her rebound, however, was derailed in late August, when she withdrew from the final round of the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open to undergo an emergency appendectomy. She was out for six weeks.

Before the surgery, Wie enjoyed getting back into contention regularly, with six finishes of T-4 or better this season. She returned to the tour on the Asian swing in October.

Fellow tour pros were surprised when she came back with the new look.

“Definitely, walk by people and they didn’t recognize me,” Wie said.

Wie is looking to continue to build on her resurgence.

“I gained a lot of confidence this year,” she said. “I had a really tough year last year, the last couple years. Just really feeling like my old self. Really feeling comfortable out there and having fun, and that's when I play my best.”

You Oughta Know: LPGA's Sunday scenarios

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 1:17 am

NAPLES, Fla. – The CME Group Tour Championship is loaded with pressure-packed subplots Sunday at Tiburon Golf Club.

Here’s what You Oughta Know about the prizes at stake:

Race to the CME Globe

Lexi Thompson and Sung Hyun Park are 1-2 in CME Globe points. They are best positioned Sunday to take home the $1 million jackpot in the season-long competition.

Thompson and Park are tied for fifth in the tournament, one shot off the lead. If either of them wins, she will take home the jackpot.

The way it’s unfolding Thompson is a good bet to take home the jackpot by merely finishing ahead of Park, unless they both stumble badly on Sunday.

Ariya Jutanugarn is tied for the lead. She must win to take home the jackpot, but she would also need Thompson to finish ninth or worse and Park to finish eighth or worse and nobody else among the top 12 in points to make a bold Sunday charge.

Stacy Lewis is one shot off the lead with a longshot chance at the jackpot. She must win the tournament while Thompson finishes 26th or worse, Park finishes 12th or worse and nobody else among the top 12 in points makes a bold Sunday charge.

So Yeon Ryu, Shanshan Feng and Brooke Henderson are among others who still have a shot at the $1 million prize, but they have fallen back in the pack and need bold Sunday charges to take home the jackpot.

Rolex Player of the Year

The Rolex Player of the Year Award remains a four-player race.

Ryu (162), Feng (159), Park (157) and Thompson (147) all have a chance to win the award.

Park and Thompson are best positioned to make Sunday moves to overtake Ryu.

Park needs to finish sixth or better to win the award outright; Thompson needs to win the tournament to win the award.

It’s simple math.

The top 10 in the tournament will be awarded points.

1st - 30 points

2nd – 12 points

3rd – 9 points

4th – 7 points

5th – 6 points

6th – 5 points

7rd – 4 points

8th – 3 points

9th – 2 points

10th – 1 point

Vare Trophy

Thompson took a 69.147 scoring average to Naples. Park needs to finish nine shots ahead of Thompson to have a shot at the trophy.

Money-winning title

Park leads the tour in money winnings with $2,262,472. Ryu is the only player who can pass her Sunday, and Ryu must win the tournament to do so. Ryu is tied for 32nd, five shots off the lead. If Ryu wins the tournament, she also needs Park to finish worse than solo second.

Rolex world No. 1 ranking

World No. 1 Feng, No. 2 Park and No. 3 Ryu are separated by just three hundredths of a point.

Because they are so close, the scenarios for overtaking Feng are head spinning.

At No. 4, Thompson is a full average ranking point behind Feng, but she could become the sixth different player this season to move to No. 1. Thompson, however, has to win Sunday to have a chance to do so, and then it will depend on what Feng, Park and Ryu do. Again, the scenarios are complex.

Cook leads RSM Classic by three at Sea Island

By Associated PressNovember 19, 2017, 12:28 am

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. - PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook shot a 4-under 66 on Saturday to increase his lead to three strokes in the RSM Classic.

Cook, a shot ahead after a second-round 62, had five birdies and a bogey - his first of the week - to reach 18-under 194 with a round left at Sea Island Golf Club's Seaside Course.

''Putting is key right now,'' Cook said. ''Been able to make a lot of clutch putts for the pars to save no bogeys. Hitting the ball pretty much where we're looking and giving ourselves good opportunities on every hole.''

Former University of Georgia player Chris Kirk was second after a 64.

''I'm really comfortable here,'' Kirk said. ''I love Sea Island. I lived here for 6 1/2 years, so I played the golf course a lot, SEC Championships and come down here for the RSM Classic. My family and I, we come down here a few other times a year as well.''

Brian Gay was another stroke back at 14 under after a 69.

''I love the course,'' Gay said. ''We keep getting different wind directions so it's keeping us on our toes. Supposed to be another completely different wind direction tomorrow, so we're getting a new course every day.''

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J.J. Spaun had a 62 to get to 13 under.

''I just kind of played stress-free golf out there and kept the golf ball in front of me,'' Spaun said. ''I had a lot of looks and scrambled pretty well, even though it was only a handful of times, but pretty overall pleased with how I played today.''

Cook has made the weekend cuts in all four of his starts this season. The 26-year-old former Arkansas player earned his PGA Tour card through the Tour.

''I think with an extra year on the Web this past year, I really grew mentally and with my game, just kind of more confidence,'' Cook said. ''I was able to put myself in contention on the more this year than I have in the past. I think I've just, you know, learned from experiences on the Web to help me grow out here.''

He planned to keep it simple Saturday night.

''I've got my parents here and my in-laws are both here as well as my wife,'' Cook said. ''Go home and just have a good home-cooked meal and just kind of enjoy the time and embrace the moment.''

Kirk won the last of his four PGA Tour titles in 2015 at Colonial.

''It's nice to be back in contention again,'' Kirk said. ''It's been a little while for me. But I felt great out there today, I felt really comfortable, and so hopefully it will be the same way tomorrow and I'll keep my foot on the pedal and stay aggressive, try to make some birdies.''